Captivated by the potential of new interactive media and often challenged by reluctant learners, many reading and writing teachers are looking to digital media to expand the definition of what it means to be literate in the 21st century. School leaders, curriculum administrators and state officials, likewise, see the value in these tools; however must place the benefits in the context of traditional summative assessment and curriculum standards. My intent is to create a public electronic document (blog) that shares/ celebrates/ explores what New Hampshire teachers are doing to promote 21st century reading and writing skills.
With advisers from the University level and assessment outcomes from participating schools we will validate the high quality outcomes, provide narratives, and develop best practice models regarding how successful learners are making gains using digital resources. My research will take place in eight paired high-school site visits in regionally diverse parts of New Hampshire to provide realistic scenarios for rural and urban teachers, supplemented with a practical focus on the use of a of interactive media tools at the classroom level. The electronic document will be organized and coalesced into a publishable resource for teachers at the district, state and national levels.
A major output of this project will be the creation of a resource blog that will demonstrate strategies, applications, and mediums which can be used in the classroom to promote digital literacy. It will increase awareness and utilization of technological tools at the classroom level as well as promote communication and collaboration between New Hampshire districts, schools, and classrooms. It will combine theoretical concepts of process reading and writing with real time, real life examples. Perhaps most importantly, it will create a living and lasting place for New Hampshire teachers to celebrate student work in a 21st century medium.
Setting the Context
To set the context of the project, it is important to acknowledge some of the challenges that educators are facing in today’s classrooms. We have an explosion of technological tools and mediums; some of these have been adopted and pushed by schools, but many of these are student-driven and owned. Facebook and Twitter, for instance, are mediums that take shape through cell phone use. Many teachers (including myself) have felt intimidated and anxious about pushing these tools in the classroom. The capacity for inappropriate use coupled with the informal and personal level of communication offers us with significant challenges.
While teachers have been anxious about the changes that technological tools bring to the classroom– as well as education in general– we are in a position where change needs to happen. Traditional skills like speaking, listening, reading, writing and thinking are now being shared, copied, combined and disseminated immediately and in seemingly infinite context. The result is the metaphorical (only sometimes literal) crumbling of our classroom walls. Instead of looking inside these walls to learn, we are becoming aware that learning occurs best when we look outside them and access the available resources that the 21st century world provides. Translation: kids have a world of information, both legitimate and illegitimate, at their fingertips. Lectures, facts, even teaching methods can be checked, accessed, and created by both student and teachers alike. The teacher is no longer the ‘holder’ of information. Rather than merely deliver content, it is the task of teachers and educational leaders to build a common understanding of content together.
Current state legislation also plays a role as a catalyst in this change within our classrooms, both with respect to Common Core Standards and the Over 18 dropout law. Admittedly, the Common Core standards offer standards-based opportunities to teachers. Rather than limiting our practice, a standards-based curriculum offers us an opportunity to provide and assess relevant instruction. Undoubtedly, teachers are– now more than ever– faced with a critical mass of reluctant learners. One thing is for certain, this forces us to take a critical look at what we do in the classroom, the tools we use, and the methods we provide. Without an effort to adapt instruction to a new learner, this reluctance of our learners will only grow.
The last essential component of our changing educational environment are radically changing expectations of the business world. Hanson & Hanson, in their 2011 article What Do Employers Really Want?, note the top skills and values that employers seek. In their article, job-seekers made note of the need for ‘softer’ skills in the business environment. These soft skills include but are not limited to communications skills (listening, verbal, written). Secondly, businesses note flexibility/adaptability and managing multiple priorities as a key component to success in a job. This skill set deals with your ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities, and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments. Third, the study made not of the need for problem-solving/reasoning and creativity. This involves the ability to find solutions to problems using your creativity, reasoning, and past experiences along with the available information and resources. Perhaps most notably, the one skill mentioned most often by employers is the ability to listen, write, and speak effectively. These skills are correlated heavily with the use of social networking as a medium for flexible and spontaneous communications between individuals as well as groups.
So educational professionals are left with two options: the first can be termed a treadmill approach, whereby schools adopt quick pilot programs, budget line items and gimmicky approaches to technology. While these programs do offer opportunities for teachers and students to explore the boundaries of technological mediums, they often come across as ineffective, become tough to measure, and ultimately trade traditional conceptions of rigor for the short-term interest of students.
Interactivity as a Solution:
Educators are in need of clarification. Clarification between what is merely new, and what actually works to promote traditional literacy skills- the ability to read, write, speak and think effectively. The clarity about what works in education needs to be provided through measurement (both qualitative and quantitative), documentation and sharing of best practices in a modern platform, and, importantly, a modern medium by which to share these experiences with one another as well as the academic world.
Educators also need interactivity and real-time feedback. One powerful way to share and promote what works in education is to make use of these 21st century platforms to disseminate information amongst our professional community. Using a blog, Facebook and Twitter account, this project will act as a magnet for effective strategies that actually work in the classroom. The audience will consist of pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, parents, businesses and students who want a voice in what we might call a new educational and social landscape.
In 2002, Joyce & Showers published a study entitled “Student Achievement Through Staff Development.” Their work differentiated professional development strategies that are commonly used in public education. They divided their research into four professional development strategies: Theory, Demonstration, Practice, and Coaching. Their study specifically looked at the long-term effectiveness of these strategies amongst teachers. As evidenced by the chart above, coaching & feedback models were found to be by far the most effective instructional strategy for professional development. The same would be true in any classroom, as any teacher would submit. So the question becomes: how do we translate coaching and feedback strategies into a 21st century platform? Furthermore, how do we increase the efficiency of these models, so this coaching can occur outside the walls of the classroom, school, district, or even state? Hopefully, this project will shed light on how we can better serve our students and our professional goals.
What to Expect:
So in this online learning community filled with best practice, concrete strategy and interactivity, what exactly should you expect to see? It is my intent to break down my content into four main categories. Student work will feature representative projects from students around the state that demonstrate the use of digital/ social tools. Examples might include gaming, applications, social media, audio/video editing, etc. The object of these entries is to inspire both teachers and students by showing them what can be done in the classroom. The other goal is to celebrate what is being created by students throughout the state. Of course, the student work will more than likely be in multimedia format with a moderated comments section for immediate feedback by an authentic audience. It is my hope that this authentic audience will also include representatives from the business community looking for motivated summer interns!
Secondly, based on my site visits, I will publish regular ‘Teacher Features’ that celebrate the work that is being done by the teachers around the state. These entries will focus on the planning, learning outcomes and logistics of 21st century teaching. These entries will include interviews, pictures, video, student comments, and lesson planning materials.
The third type of entry that you will see are ’21st Century Resources.’ These will be articles on specific and useful classroom technologies. For example, these entries might feature useful websites for teaching grammar, software features such as the use of apps for the iPad, or even uses for social networking such as Twitter or Facebook within the classroom.
Lastly, I intend to establish a variety of feedback loops to engage readers and encourage participation. This feedback will occur in the form of polls and discussion questions. As I want to promote a coaching and feedback model, I should subscribe to the same model in the blog. Ideally, topics, focus areas, and strategies will largely be driven by community feedback.
Connecting to educators on a state level will require several points of outreach. While the project will have its roots in the academic guidance of UNH balanced with the site-visits to secondary English classrooms around the state, I will look to engage other organizations in the process. I will specifically look to elicit feedback from New Hampshire professional development organizations, professional conferences, local and statewide business organizations, the New Hampshire Department of Education. Additionally, I will look to present at academic conferences such as ASCD, NHCTE, and NCTE, and also during individual site-visits.
Information will be disseminated through a variety of face-to-face mediums as well. For example, The McAuliffe Technology Conference, New Hampshire Council of Teachers of English (NHCTE), New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) and the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association (NHSTA) all offer opportunities to share practices, data, resources, and student work. Conferences like these also offer a platform to convey the message that literacy expands beyond the English classroom.
At the end of the project, this electronic document will be organized and coalesced into a publishable resource for teachers at the district, state and national levels. With advisors from the University level and assessment outcomes from participating schools we will validate and publish high quality outcomes and provide narratives (best practice models) regarding how successful learners are making gains using digital resources.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to a exciting and fulfilling year.